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Blacksmithing and metalworking questions answered.

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RR-Spikes :

Spike Material and Use

To a new blacksmith with hammer and forge every RR-spike looks like raw material!   :)

. . . on RR spikes, I found the following somewhere online:

Track Spikes ASTM A65
Grade 1: C = .12 min
Grade 2 (HC): C = .3 min.

There's more (other RR steels) if you're interested . . .

Elliott Olson

RR spikes: HC RR spikes are 30 to 40 points of carbon. They make better letter openers than knives. Non-HC spikes were about 20 points of carbon. I have been told that NON-HC spikes haven't been made since the 70's. All current spikes are HC, but there are variations. If there is an additional "C" on the head, it means copper has been added to the alloy. I've seen the "S" code also, but I don't remember what it stands for.

As for finding them, I just take a walk along some railroad tracks and pick up cast offs. A good time is after they do track maintenance.

- Rob Fertner - Monday, 12/09/02

Where do I get RR-spikes?

RR-SPIKES: Henry, Most folks pick them up along rail road beds. The rail roads don't like it, it IS ILLEGAL (tresspassing, theft). Sometimes you find them at fleamarkets and such. McMaster-Carr carries them in two sizes for 0.60 USD (look under spike). McMC is listed on our links page.

-- guru Saturday, 11/20/99 16:01:18 GMT

RR-SPIKES: There are two types of spikes, low carbon and high carbon. The high carbon ones are supposed to be marked with an "HC" on the head. I'm not sure what the carbon content is of each type, however many spikes have about 40 point carbon making them equivalent to a 1040 steel.

This is too soft for a great knife but good enough for an OK knife. Most good blades are made of relatively high carbon steel (60 to 90 point) and are tempered way back after hardening. The result is a strong flexible blade with a hard enough edge to stay sharp. In a lower carbon steel blade you must temper less to keep the hardness. This results in a blade that is more brittle and prone to breaking. So if you make a relatively heavy blade like most hunting knives it will do OK. But if you make a long slender blade it can be either too brittle or too soft.

My first pair of tongs were made from spikes. Terrible things! I broke them no too long ago trying to straighten them cold. Obviously they were too high of carbon for that treatment!

-- guru Sunday, 11/28/99 00:58:09 GMT

RR-Spikes , There are two types a low carbon and a high carbon. The high carbon are 40 to 60 point carbon steel and supposedly marked "HC" on the head.

However, spikes were manufactured by many manufacturers and they vary quite a bit. As with all scrap steel the best thing to do is take a sample and test it.

First try the "spark test". On a grinder in low light grind the sample and watch the sparks. Wrought iron and very low carbon steel make long sparks with few branches. As the carbon increases the sparks start to branch and get fuzzier and fuzzier. Test a couple known pieces of metal and see the difference. Then your sample. Be sure to use firm pressure as lightly grinding can make small sparks that appear to be higher carbon than they are.

The try hardening the sample. Heat it to a medium red or a little higher than non-magnetic (steel stops being magnetic at 1435F. Then quench it in oil or warm water. Try a file on it. If it slides off without digging in you have a hardenable piece of steel. If it doesn't harden then try a little hotter (a low orange). If it hardens then it is probably less than 50 point steel.

Note that many tool steels are air hardening (no quench) and other are oil quench. Water is too sever (too sudden) for these steels. You always want to use the least severe quench that produces the necessary results.

Points is a common term for the decimal percentage of carbon in steel. Mild steel known as SAE 1020 has 0.20% carbon or 20 points. 4140 is an alloy steel with 40 points carbon and 1095 is a plain high carbon steel with 95 points.

After hardening any common steel you need to "temper" it. Tempering is the reheating of the steel to some temperature below the hardening point to reduce the brittleness. This also reduces the hardness but that is a necessary fact of life. This is another testing area. Temper your hard sample at different temperatures until you find the right hardness. The minimum tempering temperature is 350F and 450F is recommended for many steels. You want to temper to as high a temperature as possible and keep the necesary hardness. Many "hard" tools such as hammers can be filed and others such as knives a file will scratch but not cut well. Temper temperatures are often judges by the rainbow of colors that appear on clean steel. Each color indicates a specific temperature on plain carbon steel. On alloy steels the colors are similar but not the same temperatures.

Testing unknown steels is a trial and error, as well as educational process.

If you want to avoid all this then you need to puchase new steel of a know composition, then heat treat it at the recomended temperatures.

- guru - Thursday, 01/10/02 19:55:36 GMT

Guru the Cu RR-Spikes then? not common but out there. about like the mild ones but wil a little copper in them. OErjan - Thursday, 01/10/02 21:03:32 GMT

HC RR-spike knives make better letter openers and pry-bars than knives, but only in contrast to higher carbon steel and more sophisticated alloys. They can be adequate, but never great; but they were never meant to be (and should never be represented to be) high quality and high performance knives. Their just sort of a neat recycling of a common object with its own romantic conotations. The whole idea is: "Cool; a knife made out of a railroad spike!"

Now, a railroad spike made out of knives; that would give me problems. ;-)

Bruce Blackistone (Atli) - Wednesday, 08/17/05 08:17:57 EDTik

Spikes: Bill, RR-Spikes are made from a variety of steels including (I've seen it) scrap RR axels. There are two varieties of RR spikes. High carbon and low carbon. "High Carbon" is a relative term in this case. The high carbon spikes are supposedly marked on the head "HC". These are actually close to a 40 or 45 point medium carbon steel acording to most reports. They WILL harden but are far short of cutlery steel. As with ALL scrap or unknown steel you should test a sample.

Bill Epps has a Tomahawk from Spike demo on our iForge page (#12). And there is an axe demo (#28) by Rich Hale. - guru - Sunday, 05/13/01 15:13:30 GMT

Tools. . Tree stumps work great for armour's anvils! Carve or burn shallow depressions in the end(s). Take another and set in a RR-spike as a small "mushroom" stake. Old pick axes make good "needle stakes" Larger blocks or bars can be bolted on for other purposes. Short heavy pieces of pipe are good for stretching sheet metal down into. .

- guru

References and Links

  • RR-steel Tools iForge demo on tools made from RR-rail
  • Junkyard Steels
  • Heat Treating FAQ

  • ASM Metals Reference Book, American Society for Metals International
  • ASM Heat Treater's Guide to Ferrous Metals, American Society for Metals International
  • Tempil - Basic Guide to Ferrous Metallurgy Chart, Tempil Division, Big Three Industries, Inc.
  • MACHINERY'S HANDBOOK, Industrial Press

2005 Jock Dempsey,

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